The only people who ask “What’s the big deal with the KFC in Trinidad?” are the ones who have never eaten Trini KFC. Kentucky Fried Chicken opened its doors to Trinis in 1973 and since then the Colonel has remained king with 54 locations nationwide. During the Carnival season, when tourism is at its highest, the lines for all the KFC restaurants pour out onto the streets, but everyone would say it’s worth the wait. Trinis love spicy food, so we added some of our own spices to the original recipe, put some heat to the crispy recipe, and it’s a hit with visitors. I always assumed that all Kentucky Fried Chicken were created equal, because I had never eaten it anywhere else besides my homeland. This changed when one of my friend’s cousins came to Trinidad one summer and they took him to KFC straight from the airport.
“How is it so good?” His finger licking reminded me of the franchise’s motto.
“Grenada doesn’t have spicy?” I asked.
“It’s spicy but not like this”, he said. “I want to eat this everyday.”
And he did. He took a bucket of our spicy chicken to Georgetown to share with his family and friends. I laughed at him, not knowing that years later I would be doing the same.
When I first tried KFC in the United States — and realized the crispy chicken was not spicy — I went through four of the five stages of grief.
Denial: “No”, I said. “This is not KFC!”
Anger: “You call this fried chicken?”
There was no bargaining, because I realized they could not do any better.
Depression: “This is just sad!”
And finally, acceptance: “I’m never eating KFC again.”
Americans always find it strange when they hear of Trinis bringing KFC into the U.S. But it is so common a practice that security officers at the Piarco International Airport don’t bat their eyes over boxes of fried chicken going through the x-ray machines.
I always try the KFC in other countries to see if it comes close to Trinidad’s – or if it’s at least better than America’s, which wouldn’t be hard. I lived in Europe for two years before I saw KFC for the first time. I was strolling through Old Town Square in Prague and suddenly started acting like a dog seeing its owner for the first time in years. I was so giddy with excitement that I was almost hit by a cab while running across the street to the restaurant. I had on my KFC blinders. The cab driver yelled something at me in Czech as he shook his fist through the window in anger, but I could not care less…because KFC. When I saw that they offered spicy chicken an unexpected squeal escaped my lips. I ordered a two piece meal and ran to my hotel so I could pig out without the disgusted stares of other patrons. The Czech version was more seasoned than the American and came close to the Trinidadian KFC. I went back the following day and bought a five piece meal to take back to Italy. When the female security guard at the airport found the box of chicken in my carry-on she looked at me like I had on clown makeup.
A year later I flew to Munich and was delighted to find a KFC close to my hotel in the downtown area. I ate my fair share of bratwursts that day, but I had to taste it. I took it back to my room and called my boyfriend — a fellow Trini and KFC snob — on Skype.
“I can’t believe you’re in Munich…eating KFC”, he said.
“Don’t act like you wouldn’t do the same”, I replied. “It’s pretty good.”
“Hot like ours?” He licked his lips.
“It’s closer to ours than the Czech’s.”
A month later I flew to London for a family visit. My cousin, Nicole, sang the praises of their KFC and I have yet to forgive her for raising my expectations.
“Excuse me, Miss”, I said. “I ordered a breast.”
“That’s a breast”, replied the girl behind the counter. I turned to Nicole and she just shrugged.
“This is not a chicken breast”, I said.
“Yes it is,” the girl insisted.
I stared at the dehydrated breast, confused.
“Well, it’s all natural.” My cousin actually defended it. “No antibiotics.”
It was still too small by those standards.
“Nicole, you need to go home for a visit”, I replied. “You forgot what KFC looks like.”
I reluctantly bit into the…chest. My face dropped. “And I asked for spicy.”
I vacationed in Trinidad shortly after England almost ruined KFC for me and my faith was restored. As usual it was the first stop after leaving the airport and the last place I ate before I boarded the plane back to New York, with a five piece combo in my carry-on and a zinger sandwich in my handbag to eat on the plane. I turned my nose up at the dinner of curried chicken over white rice they served on the flight and enjoyed my sandwich in silence. I grinned with a mouth full of chicken as the woman sitting in front of me said, “I smell KFC.”
None for yuh!